World Cup Recap: Semi-final 1
France out-talents Belgium to secure spot in the final
The semi-finals of the 2018 FIFA World Cup opened on Tuesday with the first spot to be decided between the winner of France and Belgium. A battle between two of the most valuable rosters at Russia 2018, some have considered this semi-final as the true “final” because the winner would most likely be favored to lift the cup on Sunday.
France 1-0 Belgium
Saint Petersburg Stadium, St. Petersburg
One goal - the minimal difference - was the decider in a battle of two teams stacked with a handful of Europe’s elite players. France’s Hugo Lloris and Belgium’s Thibaut Courtois - two of the best goalkeepers in the world - were tested early in the first half. Eden Hazard led the way in attack for Belgium while the best opportunity for France came from a long-range attempt by Blaise Matuidi. France generated more opportunities overall but both teams were almost even on shots on goal. The scoreboard would be even at halftime.
The moment of the game came in the 51st minute. France, off a corner, took the lead with a header from Samuel Umtiti. The FC Barcelona man found enough separation to power the ball past Courtois. France would play more defensively through the second half but would still play for the second goal when the opportunity showed itself. Belgium would obviously show more urgency to score but would struggle to break down the French defense. Kevin De Bruyne, the Premier League assist king for the past season, was held in check and Eden Hazard’s attempts fell short of a goal. France would win 1-0 in regulation.
France advances to their first World Cup final since Germany 2006
Les Blues return to a final after also being finalists two years ago at Euro 2016. On that occasion, France fell short of being crowned European Champions on home soil. That heartbreak is an experience that this squad has surely tapped into in their attempt to win their country’s second World Cup title. The big doubt around this squad was how this “Millennial” squad would perform at the sport’s biggest tournament. Well, France has lived up to it and they’ve done so without one single superstar carrying the team. The scary thing about France is that they are a team of superstars, much like Belgium, and that’s why they will be thought of as the favorite on Sunday. If they pull it off, they will have won it on foreign soil as their only title so far has come at France 1998.
Belgium still able to match or better their best performance
Boasting perhaps their best collection of players ever, the Belgium Red Devils are heartbroken to have missed out on playing the final. They met their match in France and fell short of their dream. With the bulk of their star players ranging from ages 27-32, this was the World Cup where the stars needed to align for Belgium. Belgium’s best finish at a World Cup has been fourth place and this squad could better that with a win on Saturday. That and the $2 million difference in prize money should be enough to see Belgium wanting to finish on a high, but as the years go forth, Belgium may always wonder what might havve been. There is hope yet for this group of players and that’s title or bust at Euro 2020.
Notable stat: France ended a 24-match winning streak for Belgium.
Soccer Matters with Glenn Davis will be broadcasting from The Gorgeous Gael (5555 Morningside Dr. Houston, TX 77005) with a two-hour LIVE show, airing on ESPN 97.5 FM, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Wednesday.
The Blitz will be broadcasting from the Hyatt Regency Houston/Galleria (2626 Sage Rd, Houston, Texas 77056) from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursday. Former Houston Dynamo forward and a member of the U.S. national team at the 2006 FIFA World Cup, Brian Ching, will be a guest on the show.
Podcasts of both shows are available at PodcastArena.com.
Remaining World Cup Matches (All Times CT):
Wednesday, July 11 (semifinal)
1 p.m. - Croatia vs. England (FOX, Telemundo)
Saturday, July 14 (Third place match)
9 a.m. - Belgium vs. Croatia/England loser (FOX, Telemundo)
Sunday, July 15 (Final)
10 a.m. - France vs. Croatia/England winner (FOX, Telemundo)